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January 13, 2015 / Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

A Letter to Foundation Trustees and Execs Considering Closing a Foundation

By Tamara Copeland
Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

Closing a foundation is not a choice most executives and trustees arrive at easily. However, if you do make the decision to sunset, you couldn’t have a better roadmap for doing this gracefully and effectively than the closings of The Summit Fund and The MARPAT Foundation.

While no one in the social profit sector was happy to learn that MARPAT and the Summit Fund had decided to close, it is unlikely that any of their long-term grantees would argue that they weren’t given sufficient notice. But giving adequate notice was just the first step.

The foundations wanted their work to continue, not as a legacy to their institutions, but as a recognition that the job was not done. They had both made inroads. MARPAT was proud of their commitment to addressing  the needs of wards 7 and 8 in the District and the Summit Fund had worked tirelessly and effectively to prevent teen pregnancy∗ in the District and to improve the Anacostia River. They had laid a solid foundation, but a continuing dedication to the work was needed.

As a next step, both MARPAT and Summit chose to host meetings to inform the local social profit sector, funders, government, and others of the inroads that been made and of the work that still remains. These meetings were another important step for them as ongoing catalysts for change even in the  waning days of the foundations.

Several years ago, WRAG produced a publication called Beyond Dollars. In it, we talked about the catalytic role of philanthropy, a role that is critical for social change. Four factors were identified as pivotal: understanding timing, leveraging other resources, promoting partnerships and using your voice.

Both MARPAT and Summit recognized that with their closing, this was the time to talk about the work. They knew that they had made investments that could leverage other resources. They brought together diverse segments of the community to encourage new partnerships, and they used their voice powerfully to encourage continued action. Just because they were closing, they didn’t stop being strong advocates.

No one takes the closing of a foundation lightly when communities, like ours, need philanthropic investments to correct scores of problems. But when the decision is made, it is noteworthy that in our region we have two amazing examples of how to do it right.

∗ A community gathering on teen pregnancy is planned for March, 2015.

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